A few weeks ago NPR's Talk of the Nation show produced an interesting report about the American Dream: More Americans Giving Up on the American Dream. Both the primary guest and the two callers made for an illuminating segment.
First, LA Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez discussed the role the illusion of the American Dream plays in maintaining social stability.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: Well, I mean, if you imagine sort of freedom being sort of the ideological force behind the American experiment and democracy, lets say its the operating system, then the source of the glue, the social cohesion is that dream. It's what really - as if we're - whatever indignities we may be suffering at any given moment, we'll put it aside. We won't resort to violence. We won't give up hope. We won't, sort of, lead to the behavior that'll shatter a society because we hope that things will get better.The role the illusion of the American Dream plays sounds similar to the role of the promise of higher education. This promise of upward mobility in the future as a result of hard work and "doing everything right" prevents the proletariat class from rioting in the streets like they do in France when the government threatens to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. Perhaps if you are part of the French wealthy class, you don't mess with the French proletariat because you know that they aren't as stupid and as gullible as the Americans and that they have it within themselves to rise up and cut your head off.
The great diversity of this country has always struggled with, we could've done worse over time if people hadn't had that sense of moving forward. I think it's that - it's the one thing that takes this hyper-individualism, these millions of competing separate dreams and puts them together in a collective enterprise. It is, as I see it, the glue - and it is really odd, actually, when you think about it, this amazing nation, this extraordinary powerful nation that rests upon this nebulous, ephemeral notion that things will get better, whatever that means.
Supposedly, studies show that Americans who are more highly-educated, or at least those who are doing well, think that the American Dream is still alive. However, the callers to this show seemed to contradict that.
Wendy (caller): I think I feel more akin to the children of the '60s and the great disillusionment they wound up having with the kind of flower child movement than people in my own generation because I did all of the right things. I worked in high school. I went to college. I worked hard. I made great grades. I got full scholarships. And I am 35 years old and not able to find employment where I can afford to pay my mortgage. So it's very like, I feel very disillusioned with America and the American ideals where you almost feel lost and like you grew up in a culture where you were just kind of fed a load of malarkey and lied to. It's almost like when you find out that Santa Claus doesn't really exist.Santa Claus doesn't exist? That realization reminds me of what law students must feel when they realize that they've been duped by the ABA and the law schools' fraudulent employment statistics and that the big law jobs and even mere entry-level shit-law jobs don't exist for them.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ: She's getting at the heart of it, the disillusionment, the sense of being lied to, the sense that it doesn't pay to play - what she said - do the right things. And what do people do when the feel that it no longer pays off to do the right thing? They no longer do the right thing. And those are the type of behaviors, the type of sort of angry voting, the type of - sort of dismantling the system you don't - no longer believe in. This is precisely pointing to the potential dangers when enough people don't believe.When people no longer have an American Dream to believe in, when they no longer believe in economic mobility and meritocracy, do they riot like Frenchmen?
The next caller also graduated from college and reported that he earned more money before he dropped $30,000 on higher education.
KEVIN: Hi. I just wanted to make a quick comment. I graduated about a year and a half from college, so the dream is kind of going away for me. I havent been able to find work. I'm, like, I've been married for a little over a year. I'd like to be able to have kids, pass the dream onto them but it's, like I said, without being able to even afford to have kids, it just seems harder and harder.Yes, Virginia. If you've been to college and were unable to find a job in your field and are now worse off than you were before (saddled with student loan debt), the American Dream is in fact dead for you.
CONAN: And so, would you - do you have faith that with hard work, if you can find it, things will be better for you and your kids?
KEVIN: I'm hoping so I work everyday to find a job, but I made more money 10 years ago before I even went to college. It's like I make less money now than after I spent $30,000 on college.